Lets Think-TANK Septic Tank Purpose & Function

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1 Barry-Eaton District Health Department Caring for the Community Since the 1930 s Lets Think-TANK Septic Tank Purpose & Function Filter

2 Septic Tank Purpose & Function Collects and treats wastewater Separates sewage into 3 distinct zones Sludge & scum (floaters) & clear zone in middle Anaerobic* digestion of organic matter Function correlated with design Sized for occupancy and long-term storage Settling of solids & floatation of scum requires a calm (quiescent) flow to promote growth of bacteria Multiple compartments &/or effluent filters improve function Proper design & functionality critical to improving effluent quality leaving the tank *without air

3 Septic Tank Purpose & Function Anaerobic Digestion Bacteria are the similar as those in the human digestive system Bacteria use the organic matter as a food source Very limited removal of disease causing organisms (treatment occurs later & in the aerobic drainfield system) Reduction in organic matter or Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD), Total Suspended Solids (TSS) and Fats, Oils & Greases (FOG)

4 Septic Tank Purpose & Function Structural soundness & water tightness are vital to tank performance Maintenance is key Pump out frequency varies with use & occupancy Routine inspection of the tank to determine if pumping is actually needed saves money Pumping is necessary when the depth of solids + depth of scum is equal to or greater than 1/3 rd of the tank s liquid depth --- approximately every 3-5 years Routine assessment of outlet device & tank integrity also needed.

5 The importance & function of the septic tank is commonly disregarded.yet science & experience proves their importance. The following pictures are from sites where a time of sale or transfer evaluation (TOST) was performed between 2007 and 2010 in Barry or Eaton County, Michigan

6 Structural Condition & Safety The corner support post of an elevated, large wooden deck was installed on top of this septic tank. The deck post was re-located avoiding the collapse of the septic tank and potential simultaneous collapse of the large deck

7 Structural Condition & Safety Pictures showing the open hole from the collapsing septic tank

8 Structural Condition & Safety Unsafe lid, collapsing tank & broken outlet pipe

9 Structural Condition & Safety Inside this septic tank the corrosion of the concrete is evident in the exposed stone & in the large hole around the inlet pipe. Cast iron inlet pipe with scum over it because the sewage level is backing up above the tank outlet pipe, which is plugged by the scum and solids as the tank level rises

10 Septic Tank Location Setback distances regarding the location of septic tanks are based on watertight conditions 50 minimum from residential wells 75 minimum from non-residential wells 10 minimum from basement walls 5 minimum from building foundation (no basement) Accessible for cleaning and inspection No pools, sheds, patios, decks, or structures over

11 Septic Tank Location Sewage from leaking septic tank intercepted by the footing drains, drained to the sump pump basin in the basement and then pumped out to the neighboring property Perforated Footing Drains Leaking septic tank Sump pump discharge Well for drinking water

12 Septic Tank Location This unplugged well was found 42 away from the leaking septic tank The current in-use well (not shown) was 28' from the old improperly abandoned well & 35' from the leaking fuel oil tank Coliform bacteria were detected in the in-use well.

13 Outlet Devices & Risers The corrosion of the concrete which was part of the outlet baffle for this septic tank will allow scum (grease & floaters) to overflow out to and eventually plug the absorption system Corrosion caused by acidic gases above the water level in the tank Corroded precast concrete outlet baffle Outlet pipe

14 Outlet Devices & Risers The outlet tee, effluent filter, or concrete baffle found in a septic tank extends down into the clear zone which serves to allow only the clearest wastewater to exit the tank each time water is used. when an outlet device is missing or damaged, scum can exit the tank plugging the drain tile. Looking down into a tank with a new outlet tee to replace the corroded concrete baffle (outlined in red)

15 Risers & Outlet Devices No outlet tee or baffle found in this tank.. the bucket & trash can lid over the tank opening is a safety hazard-- especially for children. Note: buckets and barrels are not considered to be of safe or structurally sound construction.

16 Risers & Outlet Devices An example of a proper septic tank riser. Note the riser lid extends to the ground surface & there is a manhole cover over the septic tank opening.

17 Watertight Septic Tanks The performance and success of a properly sized tank relies on its structurally-adequate, watertight design and construction. If these simple criteria are not met, infiltration or exfiltration will fix the fate of the system. From Design and Performance of Septic Tanks T.R. Bounds, P.E.

18 Watertight Septic Tanks NO Infiltration: can surface or groundwater leak in? Tank can become flooded & then the sludge & scum wash out to clog the drainfield Drainfield overloaded with excess water creating backups, &/or saturated, anaerobic conditions &/or premature failure NO Exfiltration: can sewage leak out? Sludge layer and scum layer squished together, i.e. loss of stratification When sewage level in the tank returns to operating level, the mixed or homogenized layers (solids and scum) wash out into drainfield stressing operation &/or causing premature failure Loss of separation between leaking sewage and the groundwater table

19 Watertight Septic Tanks Clear water from the ground surface and/or high water table that enters a leaking septic tank causes: Tank flooding & solids/floaters wash out to clog the drainfield Drainfield to be overloaded with excess water & oxygen displaced from that system Infiltration Leaking septic tank ¼ rain = 156 gallons for 1000 sq. ft. roof area Roof runoff = one source of infiltration

20 Watertight Septic Tanks Exfiltration Sewage leaking out of a tank but not through the outlet as it is with a properly functioning septic tank Outlet = normal operating level Tank leaking below normal operating level

21 Common notion: What s the big deal, it s all going into the ground anyway.

22 Watertight Septic Tanks Exfiltration This septic tank leaks at the midseam (& its out of level). When a tank leaks out, the sewage does not go out to the drainfield where treatment occurs Tank mid-seam below Blackness shows the level that sewage leaks down to during low usage

23 Watertight Septic Tanks Exfiltration Much work is done when permitting a drainfield installation to keep the partially treated sewage above the groundwater Vertical separation between the drainfield and the groundwater table is necessary for sewage treatment When a septic tank leaks all of the work to maintain a treatment zone or separation between the groundwater & the sewage is null and void The raw sewage can leak directly into the groundwater

24 Exfiltration & Loss of Treatment Septic Tank Ground Surface Drainfield 8-12 below grade perforated tile set in 12 depth of gravel 4 wide x 8 long x 5 deep typical Soil/Treatment Zone 48 separation Water table (actual or perched) ` When a septic tank leaks all of the work to maintain a treatment zone or separation between the groundwater & the sewage is null and void

25 Watertight Septic Tanks Exfiltration Exfiltration slows down digestion in the tank the sewage leaving the tank is higher strength, Slower digestion increases expensive pump out frequencies Both exfiltration and infiltration can occur on sites where the groundwater table fluctuates up and down throughout the year

26 Infiltration & Exfiltration: This house had both. The sewage on the ground, sewage flowing back into the basement and into the sump pump at this site was caused by a leaking septic tank

27 After the back up, the tank was leak tested using water & observed over 24 hours (Pictures are showing a septic tank riser with the lid off.) No water was used in the home during the leak test, which confirmed the tank was leaking.

28 Infiltration & Exfiltration The tank was dug up & the location of the leak was revealed (see the black below). Attempts to repair the tank were unsuccessful. A new tank was installed & successful watertight testing performed.

29 Let s Think-TANK 2297 Sewage (Time of Sale or Transfer) Evaluations in 3 Years 2644 septic tanks were evaluated for: structural condition & safety, location, watertightness, necessary maintenance: Pumping (solids +scum > 1/3 liquid depth) Repair or replacement of outlet baffles/tees 251 sites with a septic tank related failure -total of 271 tank failures

30 Reason for Septic Tank Failure TOST % due only to Outlet Disrepair or Outlet Missing (N=27) 10% % due to Combination (N=88) 32% % due only to Leaking (N=97) 36% % due only to Poor Repair (N=55) 20% % due only to Manhole Inaccessible (N=4) 2%

31 The Fix for Failed Septic Tanks TOST Repaired (N=42) 17% Full System (tank & absorption system) (N=58) 23% New tank only (N=136) 54% Other (N=15) 6% Other includes connection to available sewer, bypass leaking tank where multiple tanks exist

32 Reason for Full System Replacement on Septic Tank Failure Sites Sewage on the Ground (N=7) 12% No Absorption System/Illicit Connection (N=30) 52% Buyer s Request (N=1) 2% Unrecognizable System(N=7) 12% Sewage Backup (N=3) 5% System on Neighboring Property (N=3) 5% Dilapidated (roots, grease) (N=7) 12%

33 Structurally sound, properly located, watertight septic tanks are necessary for septic tank operation, groundwater protection, digestion, treatment, and to prevent costly repairs and/or drainfield replacement.

34 TOST Results For more information on the Barry-Eaton District Health Department TOST findings go to and visit Environmental Health to read the full report to the community TOST - The First Three Years and to view the picture appendix a must see

35 References & Additional Resources EPA Design Manual: Onsite Wastewater Treatment & Disposal Systems, 1980 EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual, 2002 Planning and Installing Sustainable Onsite Wastewater Systems, S.M. Parten, P.E., McGraw Hill, 2010 Design and Performance of Septic Tanks, Site Characterization and Design of Onsite Septic Systems, ASTM STP 901, M.S. Bedinger, A.I. Johnson, and J.S. Fleming, Eds., American Society for Testing Materials, Philadelphia, Watertight Tanks, Mark A. Gross, Ph.D., P.E. Small Flows Quarterly, Summer 2004, WATERTIGHT SEPTIC TANKS: NO MORE EXCUSES, Eric S. Ball, Harold L. Ball, Jeffrey L. Ball, and Terry R. Bounds

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